Becoming Male (Part 2)

Is 16 years old too young (for top surgery)?

This is the question I posed the other day to a group of people who are connected to the transgender community either by being the parent of a trans* son or who are actually transgender themselves.

A lively discussion ensued. Here are some of the comments:

“Mine had surgery at 15. Life just keeps getting better for him since then.”

“We’re proceeding with the surgery whether the insurance pays or not.”

“We are hoping to schedule next year. My son will be 16. For us it makes sense. I hate to see him binding, in pain and covered up in the summer on the hot days.”

“These years are so important never mind having these extra detours and they sit in their room feeling so bad.”

“We are doing surgery next month at 16 1/2. The past year the binding has been kind of bad. So we decided not to wait and just going to pay.”

“My son is 12. In the beginning I said we’re not doing anything till he’s 18 since I really struggled with these issues myself. Seeing him cry the other day in the Old Navy change room because he can’t find a simple tank top broke my heart.”

“My son is 16 and had surgery yesterday. He’s doing great and healing “abnormally fast” according to the surgeon.”

dani hunterThere were many more comments and lots of conversation. There was not one dissenting opinion. These kids are suffering. They know who they are. They know their gender identity. In most cases, transgender individuals have known from a very young age that they are different. Even the youngest kids, who didn’t have words to articulate what was going on, didn’t know the word transgender, could say, “I’m a boy or I’m a girl,” regardless of their biological sex.

A 16 year old (ftm) who has been waiting for years to become a young man is definitely ready for top surgery. Yes, it’s a big, scary step. Yes, it upsets me to think about my child in a hospital, for any reason. However, I know that Hunter needs to do this. It is one step closer to being whole. It is one step closer to having a body that matches his gender identity.

There are skilled, specialists who perform this surgery in various cities around the country. Florida, Boston, California and Ohio are some of the destinations for surgery. We will have to travel for consults and for the actual procedure. Then, you have to stay in the destination city for up to a week before you get clearance to go home.

Ideally, we would like it to be possible for Hunter to have surgery before going off to college. Next summer he will be 17 and it will be his last summer before graduating high school. He has already started a special fund to raise money on his own. He is saving a percentage of his allowance to go towards the fees which are on average about $8500 (this doesn’t include travel and local accommodations). He will also babysit and do various odd jobs to contribute. We, of course, will do what we can to help.

Before he left for camp Hunter asked if he could create a gofundme account to help with the expenses for top surgery. Then, his sister offered to write the story for him which I thought was such a beautiful show of support and love. It took her a little while but eventually she came around and now fully accepts her “little” brother as the guy he is and just wants to see him be happy. Danielle knows how painful binding his breasts has been (both emotionally and physically) and hopes that one day soon he can be one step closer to living as his authentic self.

Hunter is one brave kid. He’s shared his story publicly because he knows that others will have the courage to be themselves when they realize that they are not alone. He has found tremendous strength by reading the stories of other trans* masculine individuals and I know he’s watched hours of YouTube videos about transitioning that have been immensely helpful.

I’ve certainly never done anything like this before and am much more comfortable helping others than asking for help. But here goes.

Here is the link to the fund. http://www.gofundme.com/wnfqh.

If you are able to help in some way, not matter how small, it will make a big difference in Hunter’s life. We have been so fortunate that our son is supported. I am grateful each day for the community that has embraced our son and the journey he is on. Top surgery for Hunter will be life altering.

 

 

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A Mother’s Plea: Love Your (Transgender) Child

We’ve had a rough few months. Lots of ups and downs. Poor choices. Risky behaviors. Destructive decisions. Mood swings.

LOVE. It’s what makes the world go round; it’s what builds self-esteem in children; it’s what our kids need above all else. Parental LOVE.

trans loveRecently, I had the honor of speaking with a woman (I’ll call her Colleen) whose teenager just came out as transgender (FTM). This woman needed a friend. She needed some insight into her son’s “secret” world. She wanted to understand, from my perspective, how I reacted to the same news. How, we, as a family, are handling things. She also asked to speak to Hunter. To her credit, she was really trying to be open. I have to say that I was surprised by what seemed to be the most upsetting to her; her mother (the grandmother) had chosen her baby’s name at birth. Colleen was devastated at the prospect that her teen wanted to walk away from this name; this identity.

I certainly can understand the sentiment attached to a name. In the Jewish religion, we often name our children after a loved one who has passed away. This is a beautiful way to honor their memory. However, parents, our children are so much more than a name. What good is the name if they are living a lie? What good is a name if they can’t live authentically? What good is the name if they are depressed, isolated, unsupportive, suicidal, …?

This morning I read a story about a transgender teen (MtF) who jumped in front of a semi-truck because her parents couldn’t find a way to love her unconditionally. This is the second story in about a week’s time. Parents need to wake up and realize that you cannot control, choose or change gender identity or sexual orientation. Can I tell you something? My world is so much richer because of my son. I have made new friends. I am more open-minded. We have a stronger parent-child relationship.

I have trans teens private messaging me and friending me on Facebook because they need someone to talk to. I don’t know these kids. I’ve never met them. But, I am here for them; a stranger who is giving support and a safe ear to listen. One teen told me that he can’t remember when his mom told him that she loved him.

At the beginning of this rant I shared that we’ve had a rocky few months. We never would have made it through without LOVE. Maybe this sounds corny to you but I really believe that without showing my son how much he is loved and supported and accepted, we wouldn’t have made it.

Our journey is far from over. I am positive that we will encounter rough terrain in the days, weeks, months and even years ahead. We will get through it. We will do it together. To all you parents out there who are struggling…please open your hearts; love your son or daughter (or fill in other identifier) for who they are and for who they want to be.

The Hard Choice: Supporting Your Transgender Child

transgender symbol and flag

I was invited to be a guest blogger by Dara Hoffman Fox. She is a gender therapist and runs a site called Conversations with a Gender Therapist.

Here is the link to the blog that appeared on her site.

http://darahoffmanfox.com/parent-of-a-trans-teen/

A while back I wrote another post on the concept of choice also. Remember, please, that we don’t choose our sexual orientation, gender identity or eye color. We do choose how accepting we are. We choose whether to support our children. As a parent, I cannot imagine not being there for my child, regardless of who they love, how they dress or what gender they affirm.

I look forward to hearing from other parents of transgender individuals. How are you coping and handling things in your world?

 

What’s the difference?

“I always knew I was different.” I’ve heard this sentiment echoed by many, including my own child. Funny thing is, I always knew he was different, too. In the early days we didn’t have a label for it.

transgenderAside from the “tomboy” behavior, there were little things in her/his behavior that, individually didn’t mean much, but when cobbled together raised eyebrows and questions. In fact, I remember at one point we bought a beautifully illustrated children’s book titled, It’s okay to be different. We wanted to reassure our young child that not everyone is the same, diversity is a good thing and that it was truly okay to be different.

Young children who don’t fit into the perceived definition of what’s normal, by either their peers or others around them, are open and at risk for ridicule, self-doubt and numerous anxieties and insecurities. Olivia always loved playing with the boys. I vividly remember a group of “mean girls” in third grade telling her that if she continued to play with the boys then they would no longer be her friends. Honestly, I think I was more hurt by these insensitive children. Where did they learn such discriminating behavior at such a young age? We’ve always taught our kids to “be nice to everyone” — live and let live.

Speaking of differences, did you know that gender identity and sexual orientation are different? I never had thought about this until recently. Actually, I didn’t really understand the notion that these two worlds have different definitions.

So, for those uninitiated, let me explain. It’s really quite simple. Gender identity is how you see yourself, the gender in which you affirm — used to be the only choices were male or female. Sexual orientation is about attraction, sexual preference. For example, my gender is female and my sexual orientation is heterosexual; I am attracted to men (only my husband, of course).  I am not going to get into the array of “preferences/attractions” in this post…suffice to say that the boundaries are moving and changing. Perhaps they always have. The good news is that what used to be viewed as “deviant” is now referred to as “variant.” Think about the autism “spectrum” and how that’s changed.

Transgender individuals have a variety of sexual attractions. A trans man (FTM) may prefer women or may identify as gay and prefer men or may be attracted to men and women. The same holds true for trans women (MTF). Just because she identifies as female doesn’t mean she prefers men. It can be complicated and confusing and full of anxiety for trans families and individuals trying to find their way. This is all uncharted territory for most of us.

Regardless of the journey, no matter the road travelled, one thing’s for certain. It’s okay to be different.

 

Out of the Closet

“Out of the human mouth and into the heart” –Maya Angelou

I can’t imagine what it must be like for kids who want so badly to share their “secret” with the world – their world. How awful for them to move through the day as if their feet are pushing through fresh tar on a blistering hot summer day.

When my kids were little we read a particular book (over and over and over) in which the main character (a chipmunk, I think), tries everyday to get special words out of his mouth. Everyday he tries to tell his parents how much he loves them. He just can’t seem to find the right moment to say, “I love you.” The timing never seems quite right until one day, he feels as if he’ll burst if he doesn’t just say it. Of course, once he shares his feelings, he feels so much better and for that moment, all is right with the world.

So, imagine, a young child, an awkward adolescent, an insecure teen trying to find just the right words, just the right opening in the conversation to tell those closest to him that he has a secret.

We are fortunate. Our kids feel that they can tell us stuff. Would it be easier if Hunter’s secret was about sexual orientation rather than gender identity? YES. There is no question that coming out as gay or lesbian is a lot less complicated than a desire to be a different gender.

This is going to sound really random but here goes — I was listening to Oprah radio on Sirius the other day and Maya Angelou was on. Something she said struck me as so profound I had to capture it immediately. “Out of the human mouth and into the heart…” Think about that.